Walking Like a Panther was the first compact disc I owned. Artist L.L. Cool J was the brainchild behind the well put-together album, which featured the tracks “Going back to Cali,” “Jingling Baby,” and “I’m That Type of Guy.” These tunes introduced me to what today we refer to as hip hop/rap. The hip hop of my youth was an educational tool—one that encouraged listeners to embrace their blackness while also paying homage to elders who paved the way to freedom.The same message was preached by the Black Panther Party in October 1966, when party leaders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton put together a group of like-minded black nationalists. The Black Panther Party carefully crafted a 10-point plan they felt would help protect members of the African American community as well as strengthen African Americans with its emphasis on self-sufficiency.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr., the “peaceful protester,” members of the Black Panther Party were arrested during their struggle. Slavery was outlawed 100 years earlier; however, mistreatment of the black community by the government, especially law enforcement, as well as white supremacists, showed how little had changed.President J. Edgar Hoover feared the black activist. That fear certainly intensified when the country noticed younger white men and women supporting the goals and objectives of the Black Panther Party.On MLK Day, 2017, I was honored to be selected as the keynote speaker for Carolina Healthcare’s annual celebration. Grady “Papa Doc” Bat was introduced to me by one of the program’s organizers. Grady is a founding member of the Winston-Salem Black Panther Chapter, which was created in 1969.
Through Grady, I gained a better understanding of the Black Panthers. Our encounter also helped clarify some of my misconceptions about them, including their community engagement and the 10-point plan.Grady is a “country boy” from Bennettsville, South Carolina. He grew up poor, he explained, “like most of country folk did back then.” He attended segregated schools, and he knew when he turned a certain age it was time to leave small-town USA.Like other blacks, Grady experienced racism and discrimination during the 1950s and 60s. As a member of the Black Panther Party, he was arrested several times. To his credit, Grady was the first paramedic driver for the Winston-Salem free ambulance program, and he lead the pesticide program, which sprayed the homes of people who could not afford the service.
My interview with Grady revealed what the government did not want people to know—the support that came from various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds to empower the black community. After defending themselves against the KKK, the government, law enforcement, and news outlets, the Black Panther Party continued to make a lasting impression on the black community.Grady was nicknamed “Papa Doc” by the Panthers. It’s a name that still suits him in his role as a mentor and spiritual healer to those incarcerated. A knee replacement left him with a limp, but that has not slowed him down. He continues to work for his community.
My new friendship with Grady “Papa Doc” Bat allows me walk with a Panther—at least until the good Lord decides otherwise.